Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Red Door Spa

There was something "coming of age" about my first spa experience. In fact, the half day I spent at Elizabeth Arden's Red Door Spa in New York City was a gift from my parents for my twenty-first birthday, so it really did mark a milestone. It was the kind of pampered indulgence that I imagined only the most mature, confident, fashionable, and privileged women enjoyed—and that is mostly true. Did walking through the Red Door on Fifth Avenue suddenly make me one of them? Yes and no. I was certainly privileged to be there, and I was pampered and indulged the same as any other client of the spa. I suppose I was fashionable, if in an edgier way than what seemed the usual Elizabeth Arden demographic. I was not mature in years . . . though in some ways I was older than my age (in other ways younger). Finally, I confess that in this environment I was not particularly confident. I was out of my element. I was self-conscious and nervous every bit as much as I was eager to give myself over to the experience. Let me say now: I have not become a spa habituĂ©. Today, if it is for a professional massage, I will gladly disrobe any chance I get and slip between crisp white sheets, push my face into the cushiony, donut-shaped extension on a massage table and let a paid stranger knead the many knots in my back. On a rare occasion (less than once a year), I'll get a manicure or a pedicure, usually if given to me as a gift. (I have always done my own nails, when I have bothered, which I generally do not anymore; they don't come out as nice, but you can't beat the price.) The thing I flat-out refuse to do again is a spa facial. Here is what I remember about the Red Door experience: The visit began with the massage. Since it was my first, I had no idea about underwear protocol (keep it on or take it off?); I kept mine on. It took me a while to relax, but relax I did. I loved the combination of sensuality without sexuality, loved how many ways there were to touch a body. By the end of the massage, I was beyond the point of relaxed muscles—I no longer felt that I had any. Next came the facial. This is where the person who schedules the various components of a spa day has some serious issues. Why would they bother to massage away every worry and stress—every trace of quotidian care or discomfort—only to submit you to something as tortuous as "extractions" under a high-powered magnifying glass? For those who don't know, this is basically the highfalutin term for popping pimples, which is something that my mother always told me I must never do. And, during this particular visit of mine, it came without warning—none that I understood, anyway. There was the wonderful steam treatment, the scent of something herbal in the lightweight, heated terry cloths wrapped around my face. More relaxation . . . And then the tweezers came out. I had my eyes closed so really didn't know what was going on. I suppose the aesthetician said something, but it didn't register until it was too late. They have a technique for getting way down inside the open pore, plucking out the head of the blemish (white or black), and it hurts. I remember that every newly relaxed muscle in my body tensed right back up in that chair. And, despite my initiation into a woman's spa world, I was not mature or confident enough yet to just politely say no way, stop please, no more. Things did get better again after that (and my eyebrows were left alone; another thing my mother made me swear to never do: pluck my eyebrows), but I'm not sure I ever fully regained the blissed out massage state that day. There was a light lunch that I know was delicious even though I can't tell you what it was. Finally, a manicure and a cosmetic session during which the make-up artist actually listened when I explained that my motto in this department was "less is more." She's the one who made me look the grown-up part, for real—not like an under-aged girl wielding face paint to get past a bouncer at a nightclub. Overall, it was a very good day. I had the sense that I'd been treated in a most special way; I walked back out onto the bustling New York avenue looking and feeling like a secret, subtle metamorphosis had taken place. I am thankful for having had this experience that many people in the world could never have—dire lives make personal luxury unthinkable to most. To spa goers, I would certainly recommend the Red Door Spas. Ultimately, though, for pure indulgence, give me no more and no less than the masseuse who knows how to slip her hand underneath my shoulder blades and banish all tension from the deep tissue of my muscles. Like that, I could come into my own. I could, with regular care, finally be that mature, powerful, put-together woman who makes it all look easy. We all could, couldn't we?

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